Dubai: Beefed-up security, document demands and differing rules by countries are creating longer wait times for holiday travellers as foreign embassies and consulates across the Emirates brace for the summer rush of visa applications for visitors.
Given heightened global security concerns, quick visa approvals are growing rarer as countries tighten entry procedures and demand more documentation even for simple temporary visit visas of only 90 days.
Travellers who don't do their homework to prepare for the reams of paperwork may find themselves making repeated visits to embassy offices to satisfy stringent regulations imposed by diplomatic missions across the UAE.
Russian expatriate Tatiana said that it cost her around Dh300 and three separate visits from Dubai to the Canadian Embassy in Abu Dhabi to clear the approvals stage for a temporary visa to stay with extended family in Toronto.
"Even after three different visits to Abu Dhabi, we still had to wait for my visit visa to arrive by courier," she said. "My visit visa was stuck inside my passport which they returned within a few days after my last visit to the embassy. It took two weeks."
Tatiana said she was surprised to learn of the paperwork demands by Canadian embassy officials who asked for a letter from her employer; a copy of her bank account activity for the last three months; two passport photographs and her flight itinerary.
She was told a simple print-out of her bank account details was not sufficient and that she needed a formal bank print-out stamped and dated by her respective bank branch.
"They told me that they were checking to make sure that I had enough money to return to the UAE. The embassy person said Canada does not want visitors who would be a burden on their country," she said.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada confirmed that visitors must convince customs officials that they "have enough money for your visit to Canada. The amount of money may vary depending on the circumstances of your visit, how long you will stay and whether you will stay in a hotel, or with friends or relatives".
The ministry also warned that other documents are needed such as "identification cards, proof of employment, a letter of invitation from relatives or friends in Canada or a proposed itinerary".
The ministry advised that some applicants may be subjected to "an interview with a visa officer" while others, depending on their country or origin, "might need a medical examination to be allowed to enter Canada".
As a rough guide, Canadian authorities say that the average processing time for a visit visa received at the Abu Dhabi embassy office takes up to 14 days based on a complete package.
Both Canadian and United States visit visa applications are now only accepted in online format and cannot be manually filled out by pen. Online forms once printed can be hand delivered to the embassy offices as well as filed directly online. According to the Consulate General of the US in Dubai website, for example, what's called the new DS-160 form must "now be filled out entirely online, including electronic upload of photos".
Visit visa applications to the US can also take time for approvals.
"Visa processing can vary in length from a few days to a few months. The officer cannot know how long the processing takes until the applicant is at the visa window," the consulate said, adding applicants will be provided a rough estimate of the return time.
"For this reason, the US Consulate strongly suggests that you apply at least four months in advance of your intended date of travel."
Indian expatriate Vikram said he was a bundle of nerves after planning well in advance to book an African safari trip to Botswana.
Vikram applied through the British Embassy which handles Botswana visit visa applications in the UAE.
He applied two months in advance of his trip through VFS Global — which operates an outsourced visa application centre on behalf of the UK government in Dubai — but even the long early planning was barely sufficient.
"The visa was taking so long, I contacted the government in Botswana and spoke to immigration people there. One person there found my application and helped speed it up. I still didn't receive my visa from the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi until the day I was to fly out."
To make matters more complicated, Vikram was also informed that he had to secure a transit visa from South Africa because of his connecting flight en route to Botswana. "Even though I applied two months in advance, I still lost almost more than Dh30,000 because I had booked my flights, my hotels and my safari package in Botswana. I almost missed my flight because of the delays," he said.
Visiting Europe: Pitfalls in the process
Dubai: Long wait times are common for European travellers as well who need what's called a Schenghen visa, a 90-day visit travel document which allows entry to a wide list of Euro countries from Germany and Greece to Norway.
As a general rule, visitors to Europe must secure a Schenghen visa for the country in which they plan to land.
There are other pitfalls in the application process for the uninitiated given that various European embassies in the UAE have different rules. The German Embassy in Abu Dhabi, for example, said it only accepts Schenghen visa applications from residents of Abu Dhabi while residents of all other emirates must apply at the German Consulate in Dubai. Applicants to Germany must pay visit visa fees in cash only and for those holding only a UAE temporary residency visa, the visa must still be valid for a minimum of three months after return date from Europe to the UAE.
A recent applicant to the German Embassy who declined to be named, queried why the visa application process is so stressful with long waits in the queue, little to no parking, and a lack of access to simple information services.
"I waited for four hours just to ask a question," he said, adding he wanted to check the status of his visa application filed previously. "There was no information desk. I had a four-hour wait to get to the counter. She told me it was in process."
The UAE resident said he was worried that his visa would not come in time for his flight the next day.
"Why do they put people under this pressure?" He also wondered why he must purchase his airline tickets first to include in the visa documentation, a process which only puts more pressure on applicants who are worried they will miss their flights because of visa delays.
With less than 24 hours before his flight to Germany, he was notified that his visa had been approved and he received it that afternoon. "To ask travellers to get the ticket first before getting their visa is wrong," he said.